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2014 Projected Pitching Staffs and Rotations; entire Nats system

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Mr. Detwiler's 2014 assignment will have cascading effects for MLB and AAA.  Photo Haraz Ghanbari/AP via federalbaseball.com

Mr. Detwiler’s 2014 role will have serious cascading effects for MLB and AAA. Photo Haraz Ghanbari/AP via federalbaseball.com

OK here we are.  We did seven comprehensive pitching staff reviews (the GCL review is here, which has links to the other 6 reviews) in order to arrive at this post.

So, without further ado, here’s what I’m predicting for all seven systems right now, absent any more deals (like say for a MLB lefty or another starter or trading a closer to Chicago):

 MLB Level

  • MLB Rotation: Strasburg, Gonzalez (L), Zimmermann, Fister, Detwiler (L)
  • MLB Bullpen: Soriano, Storen, Clippard, Stammen, Blevens (L), Ohlendorf, Roark
    MLB out of Org: Haren, Duke (L), Abad (L), Krol (L), HRodriguez

Discussion: the 5th starter competition could shake out so many different ways, that it almost is not worth predicting.  I can see any of the following scenarios playing out:

  • Detwiler gets one last shot at the 5th starter as the incumbent, pushing Jordan to AAA and Ohlendorf/Roark to the bullpen (my current prediction).
  • Jordan wins the 5th starter, pushing Detwiler to the bullpen as a power lefty by virtue of his lack of options.  This would push (likely) Roark to AAA.
  • Roark wins the 5th starter, continuing his blistering sub 2.00 ERA pace from September, pushing Detwiler to the bullpen and Jordan to AAA.
  • Less likely, Karns wins the 5th spot, which pushes Detwiler to the bullpen and Roark & Jordan to AAA.
  • Even more less likely, Ohlendorf wins the spot, which pushes Detwiler to the bullpen but lets Roark stay as the long man/spot-starter.
  • Mike Rizzo shocks us again with another starter acquisition; Detwiler goes to the bullpen, Ohlendorf stays as long man, and Roark & Jordan are in AAA.

Why am I predicting Detwiler will win the rotation spot?  Partly because of options, but partly because I’ve sort of come back around on him after looking more closely at his 2013 season.  He had a decent to good 2012; he posted a 118 ERA+ and even if his advanced FIP/SIERA didn’t indicate he was quite that good, he was still more than a servicable 5th starter.  Then in his first seven 2013 starts he was also very good (he had a 2.53 ERA in his first 7 starts and 42 2/3 innings … he got hurt in his 8th start).  The rest of his season was a mess, with him fighting injury and ballooning his seasonal ERA from 2.53 to more than 4.00 in five more starts.   If he comes back healthy to start 2014, why wouldn’t we expect more of the same performance that he had at the start of 2013?  For these two reasons, I think Detwiler breaks camp as the 5th starter.  Now …. I have zero confidence that he’ll remain healthy enough to keep his spot in the rotation, but that’s a problem for another day.  And a problem for which this team has plenty of coverage.

Another scenario that could affect this predition: Rizzo acquires yet another lefty reliever (latest rumors were about Scott Downs before he signed elsewhere, but I’m sure a trade could be arranged), which complicates any of these predictions because it means one less spot for either Ohlendorf or Roark.  For a team that seems so obsessed with left-handed relievers, we sure have let a bunch of them go in recent years (Duke, Abad, Krol this year, Gorzelanny, Lannan, Burnett and Gonzalez last year).  Maybe we should just hang on to one or two of these guys?  I will say this: I do NOT believe that the Nats will choose Xavier Cedeno and his 6 2013 MLB innings for the Nats over Roark just because he’s left handed at this point.

Personally, I think Roark and Ohlendorf pitched like big leagers last year and deserve to stay in the majors until they prove otherwise.  Ohlendorf’s recent $1.25M deal seems to indicate he’s more likely to stick than Roark, but perhaps the long-man/spot starter competition is open as well.  This pushes previous stalwards in the bullpen (specifically Ryan Mattheus ) to AAA.   I will say this though: if you expect to win, you have to go north with your 25 best guys no matter how much they make or their option status.  And at the end of last year, that undoubtedly included Tanner Roark.  So thats why I’m going with Roark in the pen to start the season.

One other wrinkle; does Rizzo trade one of Storen or Clippard to Chicago, who desperately needs a closer?  This seems less likely, especially for a team that has World Series aspirations, but the truth is this team is paying a LOT of money into its bullpen ($25M and counting), has three closer-quality guys, and potentially a log jam of righties (see the AAA bullpen prediction for more).  I see this as less likely unless Chicago sends back pieces that we really need, but rumors get started because GMs are talking, so maybe this still happens.  But if a guy like that is traded, then that re-opens a slot for the deposed Mattheus or possibly the newly healthy an electric Garcia.   I think these are lesser possibilities and both those guys are pushed to AAA to begin the season.

I’m sure this section garners plenty of discussion; have at it in the comments :-)

AAA Level

  • AAA Rotation: Jordan, Karns, Rosenbaum (L), Young, MLFA or two?
  • AAA Bullpen: Barrett, Mattheus, Garcia, Davis,  Cedeno (L), Robertson (L), Herron (AA?), Alfaro, Stange, Delcarmen
  • AAA Release candidates: Meyers, Lehman
  • AAA out of Org: Maya, Tatusko, Clay, Mandel, Torra, Broadway, Crotta, Lowe, Kimball, Accardo, Bramhall, Romero (L)

Discussion

So, the projected AAA rotation has one hold over in Rosenbaum, two “promotions” in Jordan and Karns, and then a whole bunch of question marks.  Is Chris Young healthy enough to pitch this year?  Is Brad Meyers?  Right now i’ve got Meyers as a release candidate, figuring that he hasn’t been healthy in two years and may be finished.  I have to think that the team will give a couple of lower-level free agents minor league contracts to try to pitch their way back into the league, much as they have done with the likes of Zach Duke, Ross Ohlendorf and Young in the last couple of off-seasons.  There’s plenty of guys out there who may make sense; a quick glance at the current list of free agents offers intriguing names (think of someone like a Joe Saunders or a Barry Zito or an Aaron Harang; do you think these guys are getting guaranteed contracts for 2014?).  I’m predicting that at least one or two of these types of guys get MLFA deals and end up in the AAA rotation, though I suppose at least one guy i’m projecting from the AA rotation could start in AAA.

The AAA bullpen has a couple of MLB-quality arms in Ryan Mattheus and Christian Garcia who we know can contribute at the MLB level but who end up here because of a numbers game at the big club.  The AAA closer likely is Aaron Barrett, newly added to the 40-man and looking to make his mark.  Erik Davis is here, who I kind of soured on last season but his numbers in small MLB samples were good and I think he can contribute in a Craig Stammen sort of way going forward.  We have a couple of hold-over loogies in Xavier Cedeno and Tyler Robertson, the latter of which successfully passed through waivers and was outrighted to Syracuse last month.   We already have three off-season MLFA signings (Gabriel Alfaro, Daniel Stange, Manny Delcarmen) who all project as righty middle relievers, making it seemingly less likely that the team will retain some of its own MLFAs (the likes of Ryan Tatusko and Jeff Mandel being longer serving Nats minor leaguers who pitched decently in 2013).

But as you can see there’s more candidates here than there is room on the Syracuse roster (10 for 7 spots, and that’s assuming that Pat Lehman doesn’t make the cut either).  There will be injuries and D/L stints among these guys, but there may also be some releases next March.

Still, a AAA rotation led by Jordan and Karns (and possibly Ohlendorf and/or Roark if another move is made at the MLB level) leaves Syracuse with a pretty good staff to start the season.  And I like the fact that we have one reasonably accomplished MLB starter (Jordan) waiting in the wings to go along with a guy who might get there soon (Karns), to go with potentially a couple other former major league guys who are working their way back.

AA Level

  • AA Rotation: Cole, Hill, Solis (L), Schwartz, Treinen (AAA?)
  • AA Bullpen: Benincasa, Mirowski, Holland,  Swynenberg, Grace (L), Bates, KPerez, Gilliam (swingman), Spann (L)
  • AA release candidates: Perry, Selik, Demny, RMartin
  • AA out of Org: Broderick, Ray, McCoy, Frias, Holder, Bray

Discussion

We’ll see this trend again and again; despite the fact that the likes of A.J. Cole and Taylor Hill reached AA last year, the organization seems to like seeing these guys “beat the level” a second season in a row before moving guys up.  And so I see these guys in AA again.  Sammy Solis here is no surprise; he’s nearly 26 and has been mentioned as a MLB bullpen candidate already.  Meanwhile for the time being i’ve got Blake Treinen here, repeating the level, but can also see him moving up to AAA.  His numbers were good but not *that* good last year, and I left him in AA assuming that the team will try out some re-treads in the AAA rotation.  Lastly Blake Schwartz gets a deserved promotion after leading Potomac in IP, wins and starts last year.

In the bullpen I think Robert Benincasa is your closer to start, with Richie Mirowski and Neil Holland continuing to put up dominating late-innings relief.  All three guys should be pushing for promotions to AAA.  We’re a little light on lefties here admittedly.  A couple of injury-prone guys in Ryan Perry and Cameron Selik are listed as release candidates in the face of a number of guys meriting placement here.  Paul Demny and Rafael Martin have been around forever and may also be release candidates at this point, but they also could (at least in Demny’s case) convert to relief and try to rekindle their careers.  Lastly, there’s newly acquired Matthew Spann, the bounty for the Nats gambit on David Dejesus near the end of last season.   He’s a lefty who looks like he could start but i’ve got him in the bullpen for now.

High-A Level

  • High-A rotation: Purke (L), Anderson, Mooneyham (L), Encarnacion, Bacus, Turnbull (bullpen?) (L)
  • High-A bullpen: Wort (AA?), Holt (AA?), Fischer, Henke, Mendez, Harper (L), Davis, Thomas (L), RPena (swingman), Dickson (swingman)
  • High-A release candidates: Dupra, Rauh (starter?), Meza (L)
  • High-A out of org: Pineyro, Hawkins

Discussion

I don’t think there’s too many surprises in this rotation: Matthew Purke leads the line and should push for a promotion mid-season.  If he doesn’t dominate High-A at this point it may be time to think about moving him to the pen.   The same can be said about Brett Mooneyham and especially Kylin Turnbull, two guys who (by now) should have accomplished this level.   Otherwise the rest of this projected rotation are three guys who succeeded in Low-A in 2013: Dixon AndersonPedro Encarnacion and Dakoda Bacus.

In the bullpen, at this point i’m not sure who the closer candidates are to start the season.  Perhaps Greg Holt starts in the role.  Perhaps low-A phenom Gilberto Mendez gets a shot at closing.  Both Holt and Rob Wort may belong in AA at this point; Wort began 2013 there but there’s a lot of relievers in that AA section who would have to get hurt/be released to make room for these two guys right now.  There’s a couple of decent swingmen candidates here in Ronald Pena and Ian Dickson both started for long stretches in Hagerstown and could be useful guys in Potomac.    There’s a lot of names in the mix here for this bullpen; from here on down there could be plenty of releases come the end of spring.

 

Low-A Level

  • Low-A rotation: Giolito, Johansen, Voth, Lee (high-A?) (L), Orlan (L)
  • Low-A bullpen: Self (high-A?), Selsor (swingman), Ullmann, Pivetta, Simms, Hollins, Napoli (L), Bafidis (L), Suero (swingman), Valdez, Walsh (L), Aries
  • Low-A release candidates: Joyce, Waterman, Boyden
  • Low-A out of org: McKenzie, Smith

Discussion

I like this rotation, a lot.  Two of our best prospects, a third guy in Austin Voth who impressed last year, a guy in Nick Lee who probably deserves a high-A rotation spot and then Auburn’s staff leader in Robert Orlan.  Jake Johansen may find himself needing a promotion quickly, if he’s all that he’s cracked up to be.

The bullpen is going to be tough; basically every college aged short-season guy who pitched well in 2013 is named in this bullpen competition.  There’s a couple of interesting DSL graduates in Wander Suero and Phillips Valdez, some big arms in Ryan Ullmann and Nick Pivetta, and some polished college-aged lefties in David Napoli, Cory Bafidis and Jake Walsh.   I have 15 names here for 7-8 spots; Viera’s extended spring training could be busy this year.

 

Short-A Level

  • Short-A rotation: Barrientos, JRodriguez, Silvestre (high-A?) (L), and then 2013 draftees and/or drop-downs from Low-A
  • Short-A bullpen: DWilliams, Cooper, KRodriguez, Derosier, Webb (L), Spezial (L), 2013 draftees and drop-downs from Low-A
  • Short-A release candidates: Sylvestri, Grisz
  • Short-A out of org: Hudgins, Simko, Dicharry

GCL Level

  • Rookie Rotation: Ott (L), 2013 draftees and DSL graduates
  • Rookie bullpen: RLopez, 2013 draftees and DSL graduates
  • Rookie release candidates: DRamos, MRodriguez

Discussion

Its frankly impossible to predict the short-season squads, since (especially Auburn) they exist to park newly signed draftees.  However, I do see a ton of guys who competed and succeeded in the GCL this year who won’t necessarily make the Hagerstown squad, and I see them forming a good chunk of the Auburn squad.   The rest of the Auburn squad will be populated with upper-end 2014 draftees and losers from the Hagerstown pitching staff competition.  More of the same with the 2014 GCL squad, which was heavily tilted with DSL graduates this year.  The Nats tend to focus on college arms and thus only small college guys are generally put in the GCL in their draft year.

Hagerstown/Low-A Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2013

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Pedro Encarnacion was the staff leader for Hagerstown in 2013.  Photo via flickr.

Pedro Encarnacion was the staff leader for Hagerstown in 2013. Photo via flickr.

This is the 5th in the 2013 Pitching staff review series, here’s a review of Hagerstown/Low-A’s pitching staff for 2013.  Other parts of the 2013 series:

For some historical perspective, here’s 2012′s version (Aaron Barrett was the feature pitcher) and 2011′s version (Taylor Jordan the feature pitcher) of this post specifically for Hagerstown/Low-A.

All stats are courtesy of either milb.com’s Hagerstown 2013 Stats page or via Fangraph’s Hagerstown 2013 page.   Also useful here are the Big Board and the Nats Draft Tracker since so many of these lower-minors guys are recent draftees.

Hagerstown starters.  The rotation started the season with Anderson, Mooneyham, Pineyro, Pena and Encarnacion.  It ended with Turnbull, Encarnacion, Bacus, Voth, and Johansen (with Dickson in the rotation most of the last half of the season as well).  There were quite a few changes along the way; I counted 8 pitcher promotions throughout the year, including 6 starters.  Lets take a look at the High-A starters for 2013, starting with the original five and then counting down by the number of starts.

  • Dixon Anderson got the ball opening day and threw 15 decent starts for the Suns, even making the all-star team.  He started to struggle in June, hit the D/L at the end of that month and never re-appeared.  As you might imagine, its hard to find out injury news for guys in the low minors, so the extent of his injury is unknown to me at this time.  Which makes it kind of hard to predict where he’ll be next year.  He had good component ratios and was a college draftee from a good baseball school, so you’d think he’s ready to move up.  Outlook for next season: High-A rotation if he’s healthy.
  • Brett Mooneyham absolutely dominated low-A ball, posting a 1.94 ERA and going 10-3 in 93 innings before mercifully being pushed to Potomac.  And this comes as no surprise; a 3rd round pick from a Pac-12 baseball power should dominate a bunch of kids 2 years his junior.  I’m not sure what was left to prove in Hagerstown, especially when it became clear he was overpowering the league.  To be fair, he did have a 6 week D/L stint that factored in; but once he came back and dominated towards the end of June he should have been pushed up.  Outlook for next season: High-A rotation.
  • Ivan Pineyro threw 13 good starts for Hagerstown, was promoted, then got 3 starts in High-A before he was flipped for Scott Hairston.   Outlook for next season: in the Chicago Cubs organization.
  • Ronald Pena started in the rotation for Hagerstown, then was pushed to the bullpen to become the long-man by June.  He ended the season with decent enough numbers: 4-3 with a 3.48 ERA in 28 appearances (10 starts).  His component ratios weren’t that great: 55/34 K/BB in 88 innings, but he did give the Suns a great playoff stint in long relief.  Where does a guy like this go from here?  Outlook for next season: high-A bullpen in a similar long-relief/spot starter role.
  • Pedro Encarnacion was the staff leader for Hagerstown this year, leading the team in starts, wins (technically tied with Mooneyham), innings pitched and K’s.   The DSL graduate posted a 10-9 W/L record with 113/37 K/BB in 128 innings.   He had a 1.19 whip on the year, and his FIP (3.50) flattered his ERA (3.58).   Encarnacion right now represents the most accomplished DSL graduate in the entire system (when speaking of pitchers anyway), perhaps the best DSL pitching prospect we’ve had the entire time the team has been in Washington (who is more accomplished?  Atahualpa Severino?), and I see no reason for him not to keep climbing the ranks next year.    Outlook for next season: High-A rotation.
  • Nick Lee joined up with Hagerstown in mid May and gave the team 17 decent starts before hitting the D/L to make way for new acquisition Dakota Bacus in August (more on him later).   He had impressive K rates (102 strikeouts in 91 innings) and a FIP (3.54) that flattered his ERA (3.95).   He had a number of sparkling outings interspersed with a couple of failures, but for the most part was consistent this year.  Outlook for next season: High-A rotation competition, possibly dropping back to Low-A if the numbers game doesn’t work out (he’s young; he’s still 22).
  • Kylin Turnbull lasted just three high-A starts, giving up 10 runs in 17 innings and was demoted to low-A.  Repeating Hagerstown, he was again poor, putting in just 5 mediocre-to-bad starts before being sent to XST, where he toiled for a few weeks before joining up with Auburn to start the short-season.  He pitched to a 1.96 ERA in four short-A starts and earned a promotion back to Hagerstown, where he finally settled down and finished out the year.  Unfortunately he laid an egg in the playoffs, but a lot of our guys did.  On the whole in Hagerstown for the year, he performed ably; a 3.58 ERA in 16 starts.    Outlook for next season: Attempting High-A’s rotation again, but i’m wondering if he’s cut out to start.  Despite his draft pedigree (4th rounder in 2011) he may be eventually bound for the bullpen as a lefty specialist.
  • Ian Dickson was acquired in early June from the Cubs when the Nats finally DFA’d Henry Rodriguez.  I define this transaction as “getting something for nothing.”  Dickson joined the Suns bullpen, showed his big arm, then was mostly a starter for the rest of the season.  All in all for the Suns he had 16 appearances (10 starts) and posted a 4.39 ERA with more than a K/inning.  Meanwhile his K/BB ratio was fantastic for such a strikeout guy (71/17 in 65 2/3 innings for the Suns this year).  Is he a starter?  Outlook for next season: High-A swingman/spot-starter.
  • Matt Purke over-matched low-A in 6 starts (posting 41 K’s in 29 innings) and was pushed to Potomac in early July.  See the high-A writeup for more. Outlook for next season: High-A rotation.
  • Others who got just 1-2 starts for Hagerstown:
    • Austin Voth is an exciting 2013 draftee who blew through both short season teams to end up in the low-A rotation and get the opening playoff start.  See the short-A writeup for more.
    • Jake Johansen is, as we all know, the Nats top draft pick from 2013.  He (like Voth) pushed his way to low-A this season.   See the short-A writeup for more.
    • Dakota Bacus came to the team in late August in trade for Kurt Suzuki; he spent most of the year in Oakland’s low-A team and performed ably.  He posted a 3.65 ERA in 121 innings but showed a bit of a wild streak.   Outlook for next season: High-A rotation competition.
    • Blake Schwartz blitzed through 4 starts in low-A and was quickly promoted to Potomac.  See the high-A write-up for more.  Outlook for next season: AA rotation.
    • Brian Dupra earned two promotions on the season to end up in Potomac’s bullpen.  See the high-A write-up for more. Outlook for next season: High-A bullpen competition, possible release.
    • Reynaldo Lopez gave Hagerstown a spot start, getting called up from Auburn.  See Short-A write-up for more.
    • Ryan Mattheus got a rehab “start.”  See MLB write-up for more.

Hagerstown relievers.  We’ll start with the closers and work backwards by IP from there.  I will say this; when considering the future of middle relievers in low-A ball, everything is a crap shoot.  Most of these guys are already “org guys” before they’ve even really started their careers and its really difficult to project where they may go.   Unfortunately, lots of these guys may end up being post spring-training releases to make way for the newer crop of draftees.

  • Robert Benincasa led the Suns in saves despite being promoted mid-season.  See the high-A write-up for more.   Outlook for next season: AA/High-A bullpen.
  • Gilberto Mendez dominated low-A this season, arriving in June, posting a 0.91 ERA and striking out 33 in 29 2/3 innings while earning 7 saves.   No reason to think the 2011 DR signing isn’t moving on up.  I like this guy; so far he’s pitched pretty well at every level he’s hit.   Outlook for next season: High-A bullpen, possibly the closer if Benincasa is in AA.
  • Derek Self couldn’t make the leap to High-A, and spent most of the season in Hagerstown.  He posted decent numbers in low-A:  a 3.41 ERA in 31 2/3 innings pitching mostly towards the back of the bullpen.   Outlook for next season: trying the high-A bullpen again, possibly falling back to the low-A bullpen.
  • Travis Henke toiled most of the season in Hagerstown and got a late-season promotion.  In Low-A he posted a 2.72 ERA in nearly 60 innings of mostly longer relief.  He’s yet another decent find out of a small college (Arkansas – Little Rock) for the Nats scouting department. Outlook for next season: high-A bullpen.
  • Bryan Harper earned his keep in low-A this year, posting a 3.97 ERA in 45 innings.  He’s got to work on his control though; 32 walks in those 45 innings completely counter balance his nice K/9 ratio.  Outlook for next season: high-A bullpen competition as the matchup-lefty.
  • Cody Davis continued to pitch extremely well for an undrafted free agent signing, succeeding in his third straight season and third straight promotion.  For Hagerstown in 2013; a 2.76 ERA in 42 innings, more than a K/inning, nearly a 4/1 K/BB ratio and an even better FIP (2.33) than his ERA.  He’s clearly earned a shot at the next level.   Outlook for next season: High-A bullpen.
  • Brian Rauh started the year in Hagerstown’s bullpen as an 8th inning guy, didn’t really pitch that well but was pushed up to Potomac anyway.  See the high-A write-up for more.  Outlook for next season: High-A bullpen, perhaps a starter.  Perhaps a release candidate.
  • Christian Meza lasted about 5 weeks in Potomac, putting up a 6.62 ERA and greater than a 2.00 whip before getting demoted back to Hagerstown.  For Hagerstown he was better but still not great; a 4.00 ERA over 31 innings.  To be fair, his K rate was excellent and his FIP in such a short sample size was decent, but giving up 2 base runners an inning as a reliever is a no-no.  He’s entering his 5th pro season and has thus far been unable to succeed above low-A ball; he may face a do-or-die spring training in 2014.   He is a lefty though, and the lower parts of the system seem to lack lefty matchup guys, so this could be a saving grace.  Outlook for next season: trying the high-A bullpen again, possible release candidate.
  • David Fischer started the year in Hagerstown but was quickly bumped up to Potomac, where he served as a long-man out of the pen.  See the high-A write-up for more.  Outlook for next season: High-A bullpen.
  • Will Hudgins started the year in Hagerstown’s bullpen, was demoted to Auburn, and abruptly retired in July.   Odd in my opinion; his stats didn’t look that bad.  Outlook for next season: out of baseball.
  • Other relievers who didn’t get enough innings to really pass much judgement:
    • Justin Thomas bounced around the system in his first pro year, pitching at 4 different levels.  He only threw a grand total of 22 innings on the year so its hard to pass too much judgement.  He was a college senior draftee so you’d have to think he’s better suited for full-season ball in 2014.  Outlook for next season: High-A bullpen competition.
    • Chris McKenzie threw 12 innings of 5.25 ERA ball and was released, ending a 4 year tenure in the organization.  
    • Jason Smith got lit up in 7+ innings and was released.
    • Corey Bafidis stopped in to Hagerstown for two appearances before heading to Auburn.  See the short-A write-up.
    • Leonard Hollins had one appearance in low-A, got sent back to XST and spent the season in Auburn.    See the short-A write-up.
    • Jake Walsh had 1 IP during a brief callup in August, then joined the Suns for the playoffs.  See the GCL write-up for more.

Summary

The Suns were the first half champs on the backs of good (if over-aged) starting pitching.  It is what it is; the Nationals are drafting older players, focusing on college guys, and its just natural that our low-A team is going to trend older.   Based on what I see here, there’s going to be quite a competition for the High-A spots in 2014.  There’s going to be more guys than spots, both in the rotation and in the bullpen.

A lot of the names who featured for the Suns in the playoffs may very well be back to start 2014, giving the team an excellent chance of repeating as first half champs in 2014.

Nationals/MLB Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2013

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Jordan Zimmermann was the real "ace" of the 2013 Nats.  Photo Unk.

Jordan Zimmermann was the real “ace” of the 2013 Nats. Photo Unk.

I began thinking about system-wide predictions for the pitching staffs for the 2014 teams and realized that I heavily depend on doing staff-by-staff analysis to do the predictions.  I wasn’t going to do these review posts this year (mostly because they’re incredibly time consuming) but I also realize they’re a) the best way to do predictions for the coming year and b) the best way to becoming more vigilant in really forming an opinion on all the short-season guys.

So, without further ado, and despite the fact that its mid December and this post should have been done two months ago, here’s the first of many organizational reviews of the pitching staffs of our various affiliates for the 2013 season.  We’ll start with the Majors and move downwards.

Here’s the same version of 2012′s post for a historical review.

I think we all know how the major league squad did, so I’ll try to be brief here for the stalwarts we know are going to be with the team in 2014.  (Editor’s note: “brief” has turned into nearly 3,000 words.  oh well).  A lot of this analysis is for the “Outlook for next season” sections, which help me drive the predictions for all the pitching staffs next year.  All stats are courtesy of either Baseball-Reference’s Washington 2013 page or via Fangraph’s Washington 2013 page.  Also useful here are the Big Board and the Nats Draft Tracker.

Washington starters.  The rotation started the season with Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Detwiler and Haren.  At season’s end it was Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Haren and Roark, though not necessarily in that exact order thanks to skipped starts, ejections/washed out outings and some re-ordering at the all-star break.

  • Stephen Strasburg  had a down year for a supposed “Ace” in this league by conventional stats (8-9, 3.00 ERA) but by most advanced measures Strasburg was still in the top 10-15 pitchers in the league.  He still averaged more than a K/inning, he had the 2nd highest fastball velocity for any starter in the majors (only behind Matt Harvey).  He suffered from incredibly bad run support all year; the Nats scored 2 runs or less in 16 of his 30 starts and he got Losses or No-Decisions no less than 13 times when he allowed two or fewer earned runs and pitched enough to qualify for the decision.  That’s crazy.  With normal run support of 3-4 runs a game Strasburg easily could have had a record like 17-6 with a 3.00 era and been in the running for Cy Young votes.  On the bright side; he made 30 starts in year two post Tommy John surgery, and he should be in full force for 2014. Outlook for next season: 2014′s opening day starter.
  • Gio Gonzalez took a step back from his magical 2012 season and more closely resembled the starter that he was for Oakland in 2010-2011.  Which isn’t a bad thing; he still posted a 3-war season, he was still a 113 ERA+ guy, and he answered the bell every time his spot was up for the 4th year running.   He was a bit more hittable this year, gave up nearly twice as many homers as in 2012 (but in line with his years prior) and we got a glance of what we can probably expect from him going forward.  On the year he was 11-8 with a 3.36 ERA, and like Strasburg he had a number of no-decisions where the team just didn’t score him any runs.  Outlook for next season: 2014′s #2 starter.
  • Jordan Zimmermann had his best season as a pro, posting a 19-9 record with a 3.25 ERA and a 1.088 whip.  This earned him a 7th place Cy Young award finish and likely earned him tens of millions of dollars on his eventual contract extension.  Zimmermann maintained a 4/1 K/BB rate, good for 13th among all qualified starters and even better considering the velocity at which he pitches (9th in the league in vFA at 93.9mph).  A side note on just how amazing Matt Harvey is: he was 2nd in the league in K/BB and FIRST in vFA; that’s a pretty special combination.  Zimmermann seems set to broach 8 figures in arbitration and it may behoove the team to try to work out a contract extension before he hits the open market.  Outlook for next season: 2014′s #3 starter.
  • Ross Detwiler made 8 decent starts in April and May before missing a month thanks to an oblique strain, then made 5 mostly mediocre starts in June before being lost for the season thanks to a herniated disc in his back.  Detwiler’s injury exposed the one glaring weakness in the construction of the 2013 Nationals; absolutely no starting pitching depth.  Much ink has been spilled here and elsewhere on Detwiler’s status for 2014, but I will say this: look at his game logs from the early part of the season and you’ll find that his performance was north of expectations for a #5 starter.  Because of this (and his option-less status frankly), I am predicting for now that he’ll win the 5th starter battle in the spring (more on this after all the organization reviews are done and we talk about 2014 predictions).  The question will be; can he stay healthy and can he keep the job?  Outlook for next season: 2014′s #5 starter.
  • Dan Haren was, as we all know, awful in April, mostly awful in May and god-awful in June.  He hit the D/L for a brief stint in what was an obvious “forced” trip, for when he was asked he didn’t even know for what injury he was being shelved for.  At the time of his D/L trip he literally was the worst or close to the worst starting pitcher in the game by nearly any statistical measure.   Yes he picked up his performance after the D/L trip, but by that point the damage had been done.  He had game after game where suddenly the offense was down 5-6 runs and the game was basically over.  For the year the team was 11-19 in his starts.  Not a great return for the $13M contract he signed.  The Nats didn’t dare to offer him a qualifying offer and his tenure ended with an ironic slap in the face as he pitched one of his best games in his final Washington appearance.   Outlook for next season: signed with Los Angeles Dodgers for 1yr/$10m to be their 4th or 5th starter.
  • Nathan Karns was the first minor league reinforcement starter to get the call (here’s my “first look” post at his 5/28/13 debut).  In three starts he got hit hard: 17 hits and 5 homers that resulted in a 7.50 ERA and a return to AA.  We’ll talk more about Karns in the Harrisburg review.  Based on what I saw, it may be that he’s eventually bound for the bullpen, where he can throw harder for shorter bursts.  But his value as a starter is obvious if he can corral all of his pitches.  Outlook for next season: AAA rotation.
  • Taylor Jordan got the call-up when the team finally lost patience with Haren and sent him to the D/L in June (here’s my “first look” post at his 6/28/13 debut).  Jordan looked pretty good in his 9 starts, posting a 3.66 ERA and a 3.49 FIP.  Not bad considering where he started the year (in Potomac’s rotation).  Jordan was shut down in Mid-August thanks to the organizational innings limit for post-Tommy John surgery pitchers (he threw a total of 142 across 3 levels on the  year).  Now the big question; what to do with him for 2014?  Unfortunately for Jordan (and as we’ll talk about in a moment), his departure opened the door for other opportunistic pitchers and he may have been passed on the organizational depth chart.  For now, I’m predicting that Jordan won’t win the 5th starter job over Detwiler and will be sent to Syracuse to get starts and serve as the organizational starter depth that we struggled with in 2013.   Outlook for next season: AAA rotation.
  • Ross Ohlendorf took a minor league gig with the Nationals to try to revitalize his career and went a somewhat pedestrian looking 4-6 in 13 starts at AAA.  He re-vamped his wind-up and mechanics, threw with some good pace and eventually a streak of good starts led to his June call-up.  He spent the rest of the season as the Nats’ long-man/spot starter, getting 16 apperances and 7 starts in posting a servicable 3.28 ERA.  He seemed to tire when featured as a starter, only going past the 5th inning three times, and Davey Johnson eventually seemed hesitatant to use him because of it.  Eventually, a shoulder strain 15 day D/L trip and a poor spot-start in early September opened the door for others to grab starts (see below), but Ohlendorf remained the emergency starter for the rest of the season.  Outlook for next season: he did enough to get tendered a contract (which he quickly signed; 1yr/$1.25M), and seemingly he will slot back in as the long-man/spot-starter role for the MLB team.  He doesn’t seem to have enough to compete and win the 5th starter competition.  Will the team dump him to AAA as an inexpensive starter insurance policy?  I doubt it for now; they probably opt to keep Ohlendorf as the last guy out of the pen and keep Jordan on regular starts in AAA.
  • Tanner Roark toiled in AAA most of the season, and seemingly was set to exit the organization as a MLFA before earning a call-up in August.  Roark’s body of work both in 2013 and over the past few seasons warranted his call-up, and his mixture of success both in the starter role and in a long-relief role in AAA made him the perfect candidate to replace Ohlendorf when he hit the D/L.  All Roark did upon arriving in the majors is pitch lights-out (a 252 ERA+) in 50 innings mixed with starts and relief apperances.  Here was my “first look” post on his relief debut, and by the end of the season he was putting in a series of effective starts in the rotation.  Outlook for next season: he’ll compete for the 5th starter job in spring but may not win it.  Its hard to imagine a guy who threw 50+ innings of 1.50 ERA ball to NOT make the team the following spring;  I see him as the 6th guy in the bullpen and the first emergency starter in case someone gets hurt.
  • Zach Duke got one spot-start but was mostly a reliever; see the next section.

Washington relievers.  We’ll work the relievers backwards from the closer down the pen, starting with the original 7 guys in the pen to start the season and work from there.

  • Rafael Soriano was a surprise FA signing late in the 2012-2013 off-season, seemingly a Scott Boras special for the Nats.  His signing unsettled the bullpen, brought in a veteran with a history of malcontentness and under-performance when he wasn’t closing (just look at his stats in closer and non-closer seasons), cost a ton of money, and cost the team their 1st round draft pick (which could have netted them quite a prospect, as discussed in my draft review post here).  Other than that, I thought it was a fantastic signing (sarcasm).  For the year he went 43 for 49 in save opportunities, finished 58 games (important b/c his 2015 option vests if he “finishes” more than 120 games), and pitched relatively pedestrian stats for a highly paid closer: 3.11 era, 122 ERA+, 1.230 whip.  Certainly he wasn’t putting up the kind of lights out numbers we saw from other such highly paid closers.   Outlook for next season: back in the closer role, hopefully finishing fewer than 62 games so we can jettison him and his $11M salary.
  • Tyler Clippard returned to his dominant ways of 2011, throwing 71 innings of 2.42 ERA/158 ERA+ ball.  He showed why he’s best suited to keep in the 8th inning role even if it costs him money in arbitration.  He remains the most effective reliever in the pen and is well worth the $6M he seems set to attain in arbitration.  A more interesting question eventually awaits the team; is Clippard going to price himself out of our bullpen?  Perhaps not this off-season but maybe next, he should be moved to a team to assume their closer role and provide value commensurate with his rising salary.  Outlook for next season: back in the 8th inning role.
  • Drew Storen seemed to be the most unsettled by the Soriano acquisition, perhaps coupled with PTSD from his meltdown in the 2012 NLCS game 5.  He was ineffective in April, got it together for a while but then just blew up in July, giving up 14 runs in 9 innings and earning a demotion to work on his (admittedly) inconsistent mechanics.  To his credit, when he returned he was back to normal, giving up just 3 runs in 20 innings to finish out the season.  Lets hope he’s back to normal and can contribute for 2014.  Thanks to his inconsistent 2013, his name isn’t being mentioned as much in trade rumors, so hopefully that gives him some peace of mind this off-season. Outlook for next season: back in the 7th/8th inning role.
  • Craig Stammen continued his excellent workhorse performance as the classic right-handed middle reliever.  He put up a 2.76 ERA in 81 innings over 55 appearances.  Nothing much to say here; the biggest question with Stammen may be what happens NEXT off-season, when he faces the third and fourth arbitration years.  What kind of contract would you pay for him?  Is he going to price himself out of our bullpen?  We’ll see.  Outlook for next season: back in the 6th/7th inning middle relief role.
  • Ryan Mattheus was putting up the expected decent middle relief numbers when he imploded in San Diego in late May, giving up 5 runs in an inning.  In a fit of pique he punched a wall, broke his pitching hand (didn’t he ever see Bull Durham?  Never swing with your pitching hand!) and was sent to the D/L.  More importantly, I think the organization lost quite a bit of respect for him.  He returned two months later but pitched relatively poorly the rest of the season, finishing with a 6.27 ERA.   That’s just not going to cut it, not with the kind of arms who are pushing for spots lower down in the organization.  I think Mattheus will lose the competition for middle relief coming out of spring and will be sent to AAA as reliever depth.  Outlook for next season: AAA bullpen.
  • Henry Rodriguez was his typical self for the Nats early in the season; wild, ineffective and out of options, limiting the team’s flexibility.  Somewhere along the line the team finally gave up; DFA’ing Rodriguez  and somehow working out a trade to get something back (Ian Dickson from the Cubs).  Thus ends a long, frustrating tenure with the team.  The Cubs, for what its worth, DFA’d Rodriguez just 6 weeks after acquiring him, outrighted him to AAA Iowa, where apparently he got hurt after just 3 games and finished the season on the D/L.  He’s pitching in winter ball now so it must have been a minor injury.  Outlook for next season: on Chicago’s AAA team presumably.
  • Zach Duke was inexplicably ineffective for the team in the early parts of 2013, and was subsequently released in early June after the team presumably lost patience with him after an awful spot start and an even more unnerving 4 walk relief outing.   It goes to show you; sometimes you cannot trust small sample sizes.  Duke pitched great in September 2012, awful in April 2013 … but then was absolutely fantastic for Cincinnati down the stretch working primarily as a loogy.  Go figure; maybe our loogy solution was in the pen the whole time.  Outlook for next season: he’s not listed as a FA, so presumably he’s still under contract to Cincinnati right now.
  • Fernando Abad was a MLFA signing last off-season who pitched great for Syracuse and earned a call-up in May.   He toiled in the pen decently most of the year for the big-club but wasn’t considered valuable enough to keep.  The team DFA’d him ahead of this year’s rule-5 draft and then worked out a trade with our favorite GM Billy Beane.  This somewhat surprised me given Abad’s macro numbers for 2013 (3.35 ERA in 37 innings) but not when considering his lefty splits (a .306/.338/.452 lefty-lefty split for the year).  Outlook for next season: in Oakland’s organization.
  • Ian Krol exploded onto the scene for this team, getting a surprise  call-up in June from AA that coincided with the Duke and Rodriguez DFAs.  Here’s my “first look” post on him, pointing out the issue (he really has just one pitch) that would eventually drive him back to the minors.  Still, for a 22-yr old who had no experience above AA, he pitched pretty well; he maintained a sub 3.00 ERA until mid August and finished the year with a 3.95 ERA in 27 innings.  His lefty split numbers: .220/.273/.320.  This was good enough to intrigue Detroit, and Krol was included in the package that acquired Doug Fister.   Outlook for next season: in Detroit’s organization.
  • Erik Davis was Syracuse’s closer in name for a bulk of the season, earning 15 saves while posting a 3.10 ERA in 52+ innings.  He was a Sept 2012 pre-rule5 40-man addition and spent a week in the MLB pen in June before getting recalled for September.  In 10 MLB appearances he gave up zero runs in 9 of them and showed excellent middle-reliever stuff (12/1 K/BB ratio in 8 2/3 innings).  Outlook for next season: AAA bullpen again; he won’t beat out the names above him for the MLB bullpen.
  • Xavier Cedeno was an April 2013 waiver claim off of Houston (of all teams), who spent most of the season in Syracuse (save for a quick June call-up).  In September, he pitched pretty effectively, giving up just one run in 9 outings and 12+ innings for the Nats.  He clearly hasn’t shown the team enough to be counted on as the go-to loogy, considering the Nats off-season trade for Jeremy Blevens and their talk of using the likes of Detwiler and/or Sammy Solis as lefty reliever help in 2014.    Outlook for next season: Syracuse bullpen.
  • Lastly, Yunesky Maya got a call-up to provide bullpen relief, got blitzed, DFA’d and outrighted.  See the Syracuse writeup for more.

Summary

Washington’s rotation was by most measures a top 5-6 rotation in the majors (7th in starter ERA, 6th in starter FIP and 3rd in starter xFIP/SIERA).   Clearly we look to be improved on the rotation side, with Haren’s starts being replaced by the underrated Doug Fister, with a healthy Detwiler and with plenty of reinforcements to back the starters up.  Look for this to continue to be a source of strength in 2014.

The bullpen however was not a source of strength last year, ranking between 17th and 19th in the macro pitching categories (17th bullpen ERA, 19th bullpen xFIP and 18th in bullpen SIERA).  Has the team done enough to improve the bullpen for 2014 by just replacing the under-performers with call-ups and signings?

Nats 2013 Arbitration cases; Non-tender candidates and salary analysis

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Ohlendorf's old-school/new-look windup has resurrected his MLB career.  Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Ohlendorf’s old-school/new-look windup has resurrected his MLB career. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

In 2012, the Nats had no less than 10 arbitration candidates once the dust settled on the Super-2 cutoff.  The team cut ties with three of the players (Jesus Flores, Tom Gorzelanny and John Lannan) and then subsequently struggled in areas where Gorzelanny (left handed matchups) and Lannan (5th starter) may very well have helped during hte 2013 season.  We predicted these three non-tenders and mostly agreed with the thought process behind each decision at the time.  This is a complete “hindsight is 20-20″ analysis, but it does go to show that perhaps instead of dumping $11M/year onto a mediocre closer they could have fortified their ranks and kept all three players (who together wouldn’t have totaled the $11M Rafael Soriano got) and perhaps wouldn’t have struggled in these areas for so long.  Or perhaps not.  I digress.

For 2013, the Nats have 8 Arbitration-eligible players.   They had a few other candidates before some demotions (Danny Espinosa, Ryan Perry) and releases (Roger Bernadina and Henry Rodriguez) cleared out potential non-tender/additional arbitration candidates early.  Unlike last year there’s really not much argument about nearly any of our arbitration-eligible players (even mlbtraderumors does not list any Nats in its non-tender candidate list).  Lets take a look at the 8 guys, their 2013 salaries, their 2014 estimates, and discuss.  The salary projections are from Matt Swartz‘s mlbtraderumors model, and I’ll discuss if I think they’re slightly over- or under-representative.  As with all salary discussions, all information comes from Baseball Prospectus’ Cots page.

Player Arb Status 2013 Salary 2014 Swartz Estimate
Jordan Zimmermann Arb 3 $5.3M $10.5M
Tyler Clippard Arb 3 $4.0M $6.2M
Stephen Strasburg Arb 1 $3.9M $3.9M
Ian Desmond Arb 2 $3.8M $6.9M
Drew Storen Arb 2 $2.5M $3.6M
Ross Detwiler Arb 2 $2.3M $2.8M
Wilson Ramos Arb 1 $501k $2.1M
Ross Ohlendorf Arb 2 ? $1.3M

Frankly, the only possible non-tender candidate I see here is Ross Ohlendorf.  He signed a minor league free agency deal with Washington whose terms were never released, so one can only assume it was for the major league minimum or near it.   He went through arbitration once already, earning more than $2M/year from Pittsburgh in 2011 before bottoming out as a starter.  He’s reinvented himself this year though and merits a tender.  Paying anything less than $2M/year for what we got from Ohlendorf would be a bargain.  If the Nats got him for Swartz’s estimate of $1.3M that’d be fantastic.

Speaking of Swartz’s estimates, lets take a look at his 10 predictions from last year versus what transpired:

Swartz’s arb salary model for our 2012 candidates
Player Swartz Estimate Actual Salary
John Lannan $5.0M NT $2.5M
Jordan Zimmermann $4.9M $5.3M
Tyler Clippard $4.6M $4.0M
Ian Desmond $3.2M $3.8M
Tom Gorzelanny $2.8M NT $2.6M
Ross Detwiler $2.2M $2.3M
Drew Storen $1.7M $2.5M
Jesus Flores $1.2M NT ML
Roger Bernadina $1.1M $1.2M
Craig Stammen $900k $875k*

(* Stammen signed a 2 yr/2.25M deal paying him 875k and $1.375M his first two arb years.  After non tenders Lannan signed a 1yr/$2.5M deal with Philadelphia, Gorzelanny signed a 2yr/$5.7M deal that pays him $2.6M and $2.8M and which gave him a $300k signing bonus.  Flores signed a minor league deal).

I’m not sure I’d call Swartz’s model the self-titled “very accurate” based on these numbers.  He was significantly wrong on the three biggest cases the Nats faced last year but proved be much more accurate on the lesser players.   It sounds to me like his system does a great job of predicting arbitration figures for bit players but struggles with significant players.  I also get the feeling that the Nationals are less willing to argue with their players than other teams, after a series of brusing and self-defeating fights over a few hundred thousand dollars under the previous regime (relative pennies, all things considered).

With that in mind, lets do a little arbitration salary analysis for our 8 guys.   The general rule of thumb with arbitration salaries is that they are intended to ramp up the full FA value of the player over the three arbitration periods.   So in the first arbitration year, the salary should be roughtly 40% of the full FA value.  60% in the second year and 80% in the third year.  Players with a fourth year are tricky; generally i’ve just assumed that by the 4th year you’re paying them nearly full FA value (we don’t have any 4th year arbitration cases this year, so we don’t have to guess).  The table below contains the Swartz estimates, then has calculations of the player’s full FA value based on the Swartz estimate, then my own personal estimate of each player’s full FA value, and a working-backwards arbitration salary guess for each guy:

Player Arb Status 2013 Salary 2014 Swartz Estimate Full FA Value based on Swartz Estimate My Est of full FA value Arb estimate based on my full FA value
Jordan Zimmermann Arb 3 $5.3M $10.5M $13.125M $15M $12M
Tyler Clippard Arb 3 $4.0M $6.2M $7.75M $8m $6.4M
Stephen Strasburg Arb 1 $3.9M $3.9M $9.75M $15M at least $6M
Ian Desmond Arb 2 $3.8M $6.9M $11.5M $15M $9M
Drew Storen Arb 2 $2.5M $3.6M $6M $6M $3.6M
Ross Detwiler Arb 2 $2.3M $2.8M $4.66M $5M at best $3M
Wilson Ramos Arb 1 $501k $2.1M $5.25M $8M if healthy $3.2M
Ross Ohlendorf Arb 2 ? $1.3M $2.16M $2.5M at best $1.5M

Lets go player by player:

  • Jordan Zimmermann: 2013 Salary was $5.3M.  Swartz guesses he’ll get $10.5M while I think he’ll get more.  If Zimmermann hit the open market right now you have to think he’s at least a $15M/year guy, and I think the team will have to pay him as such after his 2013 season.   The Nats face an interesting decision with Zimmermann; they clearly waited one season too long to lock him down and he now may cost double what it cost the team to secure Gio Gonzalez‘s services.
  • Tyler Clippard: 2013 salary $4.0M.  Swartz guesses he’ll get $6.2M.  Clippard represents a different arbitration case; by virtue of the fact that Clippard went from being the 2012 closer to being the 2013 setup guy, he’ll have a harder time arguing for additional money despite his excellent season.  Why?  Because arbitration is driven by the same old-school stats (Wins, Saves, ERA, RBI) that drive sabrematricians crazy, and unfortunately Clippard didn’t get them in 2013.  So even though I think he’s a $8M/year closer for a team that gives him that opportunity, he won’t get that value in arbitration.  I’ll be surprised if he gets near to Swartz’s estimate of $6.2M.  Honestly the team should look to buy him out of his last two arbitration seasons and look to move him to a team in need of a closer.
  • Stephen Strasburg; 2013 Salary $3.9M.  Swartz guesses he’ll get $3.9M again?  Clearly something is wrong with his system.  No matter what you think about Strasburg’s 2013 season … by nearly any measure available he’s one of the 10 best pitchers in the game.   If he hit the open market right now I’d guess he’d command at least $20m/year, but for simplicity’s sake I’m putting his FA value at a conservative $15M, which would equate with a $6M valuation for his first arbitration season.   Do the Nats just buy him out of his arbitration figures, much as the Giants did with Tim Lincecum?
  • Ian Desmond: 2013 salary $3.8M.  Swartz guess: $6.9M.  Again, I feel like Swartz is undervaluing a significant player here.  Desmond has now established himself as one of the best shortstops in the game.  If you want a comp, look no further than Elvis Andrus‘s $15M/year contract.  I think Desmond is absolutely worth a 6/$90M deal or higher right now, and I think we’ll see it in his arbitration case.
  • Drew Storen: 2013 salary $2.5M.  Swartz estimate: $3.6M.  Here I think Swartz is right on; because Storen’s not getting saves right now, and because of his crummy 2013, I’ve got his FA value pegged at a mid-range closer cost of $6M/year.  Which puts him right in line for a $3.6M payday in his second arbitration year.  As with Clippard, I think Storen’s value is limited as long as he doesn’t get saves, and the team should look to move him before he gets too expensive.
  • Ross Detwiler: 2013 salary $2.3M.  Swartz Estimate $2.8M.  Frankly Swartz may be over-estimating on Detwiler, based on his 2013 season.  At this point in Detwiler’s career its hard to say he’s any more valuable on the FA market than John Lannan was last year (getting a 1yr $2.5M deal).  Which means that any arbitration award above $2.5M may mean Detwiler enters non-tender territory if he struggles in 2014.  Nonetheless, I think he’ll end up getting just a modest raise and an organizational ultimatum for 2014.
  • Wilson Ramos: 2013 salary $501k.  Swartz Estimate: $2.1M.   Here, despite my thinking that Ramos is eventually going to be more valuable than Swartz’s estimate indicat es, I believe that his number will be about right.  Ramos needs to stay on the field consistently to realize his full FA value, and right now that just hasn’t happened.
  • Ross Ohlendorf: 2013 salary unknown.  Swartz Estimate: $1.3M.  This guess is as good as any; at best Ohlendorf is a $2.5M player on the FA market and even that might be a stretch.  A right-handed long-relief guy isn’t going to command a ton of money.

Total payroll hit: $37.3M if all of Swartz’s estimates come true exactly.  $44.7M if all of my estimates above come true.  Honestly I think my calculated estimates are slightly high in a couple of cases, so I think the arbitration bill will come in at around $42.5M.  Which, by the way, would put 2014′s payroll at around $122M before signing a single free agent.  So think about that and think about what the Nats “real” payroll budget is before thinking that they’ve got some significant signing in their back pocket.

Ladson’s Inbox 10/23/13 edition

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At least when Williams takes the job, his uniform colors won't change much.  Photo unk via zimbio.com

At least when Williams takes the job, his uniform colors won’t change much. Photo unk via zimbio.com

[Editor’s note: I wrote this nearly two weeks ago and forgot to publish it.   Since Oct 23rd, obviously we’ve hired a manager and crowned a WS champion.  So some of this may sound dated.  In fact, the first two questions are about a topic that’s already been settled].

While we wait for the beginning of what looks to be a classic World Series (a rare time when both #1 seeds make the series), Bill Ladson pops up with the latest edition of his mailbag, dated 10/23/13.  Without a manager and with interviewee names swirling, lets see what the tenor of the questions is on mlb.com.

As always, I write my answer here before reading Ladson’s and edit questions for clarity if needed.

Q: Do you think Dusty Baker has a shot at becoming the manager of the Nationals?

A: Nope.  I think Dusty Baker‘s demonstrated obstinance to any modern baseball strategy will prevent him from working for Mike Rizzo.  Rizzo isn’t exactly Mr. Sabrematrician GM, but he seems to know which way the tides are going in the baseball industry (as opposed to, say, Philadelphia’s Ruben Amaro).   Baker may be bound for the broadcast booth come 2014 and beyond, along side other stubborn old-school baseball people like Joe Morgan and Tim McCarver who seem determined to continue the historical narratives of the game.  What are Baker’s primary sins?  Stubborn adherence to the save statistic with Aroldis Chapman, over-use of the bunt, no defensive shifting imagination, and lineup mistakes involving the #2 hitter.  Ladson doesn’t criticize any of Baker’s moves, just notes that the Nats want someone  younger.  Yes there’s that too.

Q: What are the chances of Cal Ripken Jr. managing the Nats?

A: Apparently as slim as Baker’s.  Rizzo (for better or worse) likes his Arizona connections, and that’s why I think it’ll be Matt Williams.  I know that Tom Boswell wrote a fierce rebuttal in either a chat or a column to those who think Ripken is not “qualified” to be a manager … but I still tend to think that modern baseball managers need a maturation time no matter how much time they played or how good they were.  Ryne Sandberg toiled in the minors for years before getting his shot, Williams is a bench coach, Don Mattingly was Joe Torre‘s bench coach for years.  Its kind of the same reason why I don’t think player-managers will ever work again in the Majors; the job is too specialized these days to just put some veteran out there and ask him to do both roles.   Ladson says no-go on Ripken.

Q: When do you think Rizzo will finally give Ian Desmond a long-term contract which he deserves?

A: Good question.  Ian Desmond‘s two consecutive 4 bWAR seasons have probably increased his FA market cap about 10 times over.  You’d be hard pressed at this point to compare Desmond to Elvis Andrus (he of the 8yr/$120M contract) and not finding them to be equals.  Its a balancing act; in April of 2012 this team was wondering if Desmond was going to be released.  Now, two great seasons later we’re wondering if we can get  him to sign for “just” $100M.

My theory on baseball team construction says that you need to lock up your “spine.”  If you have quality players at Catcher, (Starting) Pitcher, Shortstop and Center Field, you lock them up and then fill in around them.  Because good two-way catchers, short stops and CFs are the hardest positions to lock up.  So for me, I want Desmond locked up for the long haul.  Ladson thinks this will happen before or during Spring Training.

Q: I know the Nats insist the offense is set for next year, but do you see any possibility of the team pursuing a big name like Robinson Cano to help improve the offense?

A: Maybe, but I doubt it.  Robinson Cano‘s salary demands given the current state of the game (where draft picks are cherished and teams show they can make the playoffs by building from within on a budget) and the clear mistakes that recent massive deals for aging sluggers (Albert PujolsJosh Hamilton being exhibits A and B) will likely make teams shy away from his contract demands.  The Nationals have to be looking at their current payroll (two 9-figure deals already), look at who they’re going to have to pay in the next few  years (Desmond, ZimmermannHarper, and Strasburg leading the way) and should be thinking to themselves … would we be better served with the low-budget Anthony Rendon versus breaking the bank on Cano?  I would be saying that, and I’d imagine most every other team out there is as well.  I think Cano slinks back to New York for great money, but nothing like $300M.  Ladsons hedges; anything is possible.

Q: I look around with envy at the Braves and Cardinals with their young fireballers. After Henry Rodriguez left, it seems as if the Nationals do not have any relievers who fit that role. Are they in the Minors, and if so, how long until they can contribute?

A: Lord, I think that’s the first time I’ve ever heard someone complain about the team releasing Henry Rodriguez.  The Braves have a lot of firepower … but not in the rotation you’ll note.  MedlenHudson, Minor and Maholm all were relatively softer tossers.  Meanwhile the Nats placed three guys into the qualified top 17 starters in terms of average FB velocity.  So don’t sleep on the Nats.  I’d rather have velocity in my starters versus relievers.   However I will note that only Drew Storen ranked in the top 50 of relievers in FB velocity this year … whereas the Braves had a couple guys in the top 10.

The Cardinals are who they are; the best (or 2nd best with Tampa) franchise in the game for producing pitching.  They’re the envy of every franchise.  But Rizzo is trying; he’s drafted a TON of pitching over the past few years, he’s focused on power arms when he could, and there’s a lot of decent starters rising in our system as we speak.  Not all of them are going to stick as Starters, so we could get more power arms into the bullpen.  Consider Nathan Karns; in his MLB debut on 5/28/13 he averaged 94.4, hit 97.1 as a peak, which would easily put him on page one of MLB relievers.  So help could be coming.  I cannot think of a big-time, known hard-thrower off-hand; the MPH readings we get from the minors are so spotty.  Ladson reports that A.J. Cole, Blake Treinen, Jake Johansen and Jefry Rodriguez as profiling as hard-throwers in the near 100 mph range. 

Q: With Michael Morse available as a free agent next year, would the Nats consider bringing him back?

A: I know this is a common refrain among fans, but after his departure and after seeing what he’s done in the outfield (he was absolutely *awful* in 2013; in 456 innings in RF he posted a -33.1 UZR/150.  Wow), I believe Michael Morse belongs in the AL as a 1B/DH type.  I can’t see him taking a bench role, not after hitting 30 homers just two seasons ago.  I can see him taking a low-cost deal to DH somewhere and try to rebuild some value.  Ladson agrees.

 

July 2013: Minor League Monthly Rotation Review

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A.J. Cole is having a good 2013. Photo: AP Stock

A.J. Cole is having a rebound 2013 for sure. Photo: AP Stock

Here’s this month’s Minor League Rotation Review post.  Here’s April 2013May 2013, and June 2013‘s posts for history.

For each level, I’ll put out the rotation members, their “letter grades” per start for this month only, and then throw in a quick link to show their seasonal stats for context.  For each team there are 3 distinct groups of starters: the top group of 5-6 Starters per level is the “current rotation” as best as I can figure it, then the next section of pitchers are swing-men or spot-starters or guys who had “2nd start” or longer outings worthy of grading, followed by a 3rd group of guys who are generally no longer with the team (either by D/L, promotion, demotion or release).  I’ve only listed the third category if something transactionally has happened to the player this particular month.

All stats mentioned (ERAs, Whips, K/9 rates, etc) are as of 8/1/13 and may have slightly changed by the time of this posting.


AAA Rotation: click here for Syracuse Milb.com stats

  • Maya: B+,D,D-,A-,B+,A
  • Tatusko: D,A,B,C+,B,B
  • Rosenbaum: B,C-,A,D,D
  • Roark: B+,C+,C-,A-,A
  • Clay: A,A,D+/inc (rain),B,C
  • Mandel: D->back to bullpen
  • Robertson: F

Discussion: Syracuse has had the most stable rotation of the whole system.   Which is ironic because (if I’m interpreting their service time correctly) 4/5ths of this rotation are minor league free agents this coming off season.   Only Danny Rosenbaum is tied to the organization past this year, having already “survived” one rule-5 draft, but I think we can read the tea-leaves in terms of his future with the organization.  The bright side of this turnover will be the rightful promotion and challenging of several AA pitchers right now, to start grooming the true MLB injury replacements that we just did not have in-house this year (with apologies to Chris Young who really did not work out and Ross Ohlendorf, who has but in a non-starting role thus far).

Yunesky Maya has shown signs of life lately, putting up a few good performances in the latter part of the month.  Tanner Roark seems like he could be a useful swing-man on the MLB roster if called into action; he’s performed ably since returning to the rotation.  Caleb Clay continues to impress; how did he not success in Boston’s organization?

In the bullpen, Xavier Cedeno has excelled since his waiver claim from Houston but suffered from bad timing and bad luck; the two loogies called up (Abad and Krol) have both excelled.   Cedeno is likely another 6-year MLFA heading elsewhere this coming off-season.  (Note: Cedeno has just been called up to cover for Ohlendorf’s “dead arm” D/L trip).

 


AA: click here for Harrisburg Milb.com stats

  • Karns: A,A (inc),A,A,B-,B-
  • Gilliam: A-,A+,D+,B,B,C-
  • Cole: A+,A
  • Ray: B+,A++,D,D,B-
  • Hill: A,B,A-,B,B,D+
  • Herron: D
  • Swynenberg: A-
  • Grace: B
  • Demny: -> D/L, to bullpen, demoted
  • Treinen: D->d/l,C+,B+ -> D/L

Discussion: Harrisburg’s rotation is now down to just one of the 5 guys who opened the year there; Nathan Karns has recovered from his MLB stint and long layoff and is back to dominating; if it weren’t for the full-deck in AAA Karns may have been promoted by now.   Blake Treinen (another original rotation guy) is on his second D/L stint of the month but has kept his numbers respectable.  Robert Gilliam continues his up-and-down season, moving between stellar and sub-par starts (which is reflected in his 4.09 ERA in AA).

The next generation though seems upon us: A.J. ColeRobbie Ray and Taylor Hill are all on the same path this year: succeeded in High-A, pushed to AA and are now succeeding there.  Cole’s first two starts in Harrisburg could not have gone better, and Ray’s numbers are still good despite a couple of rough starts.  Remember; both Ray and Cole were “really young” at the season’s onset for High-A; now they’re among the youngest guys in all of AA and still producing.  This is great news going forward for this farm system, especially considering that another of the opening day Potomac starters (Taylor Jordan) is now effectively pitching in the majors.  I know this is the Harrisburg section, but think about the success of Potomac’s original 5 this year.

 


High-A:  click here for Potomac Milb.com stats

  • Purke: A-,F-,C-,D-,D,B+
  • Demny: D,D/inc (2 innings)
  • Solis: A-,D,A-
  • Schwartz: A,D,C-,B+,C+,B+
  • Rauh C,A,D,B+,A,D/inc (2/3 inning)
  • Fischer: A,B
  • Holt: A
  • Ray: -> promoted
  • Pineyro: A -> traded
  • Cole: D,B+/inc,A- -> promoted
  • Frias: B,F -> bullpen -> released 7/24/13

Discussion: The churn in the Potomac rotation continues.   They’ve not gotten starts from 15 different non-rehab assignment players.   And they keep on chugging, holding an 8 game lead in the division on August 1st after winning the first half.  Potomac’s two significant/important names of course are Matthew Purke and Sammy Solis.   Purke has looked hittable in High-A, his ERA skewed by one really bad outing but still not as dominant as you’d like someone with his pedigree to be.  Meanwhile Solis’ latest “return” seems to be going pretty well; he maintains a 2.65 ERA in Potomac while trying to build up arm strength.   Blake Schwartz is now the longest tenured rotation member and has pitched excellently so far in 2013.  He could be quite a find if he continues to develop (he was a 17th round pick who mostly pitched in Division II in college).

Meanwhile, Paul Demny‘s career faced a significant setback upon his demotion from Harrisburg.  He now sits back in High-A, a level at which he pitched a full season in 2011.  It may be time for Demny to try a conversion to relief, as it seems that he may be stalled as a starter.  He had great K/9 rates as a starter; it seems he may make a very effective reliever.


Low-A: click here for Hagerstown Milb.com stats

  • Turnbull: F,D,A,C-,A,D
  • Encarnation: A+,C,A,D,A-,B+
  • Mooneyham: B+,B-,D,B,A+
  • Dickson: A,F,C+,B+
  • Lee: A,B+,C-,B+,A-,B+
  • RPena: B,B+
  • Harper: | | | B,B+
  • Meza: B
  • Purke: -> promoted
  • Anderson: -> d/l

Discussion: with Dixon Anderson‘s D/L trip, Pedro Encarnacion now becomes the senior statesman of Hagerstown.   Both guys have pretty similar numbers; good ERAs (3.20-3.30) and good whips (1.17-1.19).   Encarnaction continues his slow march up the farm system, having gotten further along than most every DSL graduate in recent  years.   Brett Mooneyham continues to dominate a league that he’s over-qualified for.    Kylin Turnbull continues to get pounded in a league that he should be handling.  Ian Dickson (who we got in trade for Henry Rodriguez) has done decently well since being added to the rotation; outside of one blow-up he’s given up just 4 runs in 20 innings over 5 starts.  Not a bad return so far for a guy we were going to cut anyway (and who the Cubs took about 5 weeks to DFA themselves).


Short-A: click here for Auburn Milb.com stats

  • Johansen: A,A,B+,B+,A
  • Barrientos: D,C+,C- -> D/L,F
  • Orlan: F-,B-,A,A,F
  • DWilliams: B-,F,D,C-
  • Voth: A,C+,B/inc (1ip),A-
  • Ullmann: | | | F,B+
  • Hollins: B,B+
  • Bafidis: D+
  • Medina: A-
  • Selsor: B,D,D -> demoted to bullpen
  • Hudgins: D+,A- -> retired !?
  • Turnbull: C -> promoted

We’re seeing some big ERAs in Auburn so far.  Robert Orlan; 5.19 ERA.  Joel Barrientos: 4.66.  Deion Williams: 9.42.  Ugh.  More interesting to me are the 2013 draftee performances thus far.  2nd rounder Jake Johansen has been good; sub 1.00 ERA, sub 1.00 whip and about a K an inning so far.  He’s been a bit wild (28/14 K/BB ratio but has been consistently stingy when it comes to runs.  5th rounder Austin Voth has been sharp; 17/1 K/BB ratio in 14 innings so far in Short-A.  Lastly Ryan Ullman, a 30th round pick has had up and down starts so far in his 13 short-A innings.

I remain baffled with Will Hudgins abrupt retirement; he had 12 innings of relatively decent relief in 2013 and then tweeted out his retirement.   He hasn’t tweeted since, and when I mentioned it in the daily NationalsProspect.com post I didn’t get anyone who knew anything else.  Hopefully the retirement was not injury or illness related.


GCL: click here for GCL-Nationals Stats on MiLB.com

  • JRodriguez: F,A,A,B,B+
  • Silvestre: C-,A,F,A
  • Giolito: D/inc (only 1/3 inning),B,A-,D/inc (2/3 inings),D
  • Suero: B,B+,A
  • Valdez: A
  • Ott: B,B,C
  • DeRosier: B,B-
  • KRodriguez: B,B+,B+,C+
  • Pivetta: B-,B+,A
  • Spezial: A
  • Webb: A
  • Voth: A -> promoted
  • Ullmann: A,D+ -> promoted

It almost isn’t worth trying to grade out these GCL pitchers; most of the time they’re going 2-3 innings per “start” or per long relief stint.  If you pitch 3 scoreless innings, is that an “A?”   Lucas Giolito now has 6 “starts” but only a total of 12 combined innings thrown.   DSL grads Wander Suero and Jefry Rodriguez have looked promising.  Kelvin Rodriguez has good numbers in his combined mid-relief stints but relatively few strike outs (only 9 in 21 1/3 innings).

 

 

Is it time to fire Davey Johnson?

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Davey Johnson can't get this team in gear.  Is it time to go?  Photo Getty via mlb.com

Davey Johnson can’t get this team in gear. Is it time to go? Photo Getty via mlb.com

I know this is blasphemous to say.

I know it’ll never happen, not under this GM and not under this ownership group, both of whom have far more respect for Davey Johnson than to give him such an ignominious end to his time here.

And I know that Johnson is as good of a manager as is out there.  I may have been critical of his decisions here and there (especially related to yanking starters on low pitch counts), but I recognize he’s a Hall of Famer and cannot argue against his career accomplishments.

But I’m beginning to believe that the only way to shake this team out of its current malaise is to change the message coming from the top.

They tried demoting players who weren’t hitting (Danny EspinosaTyler Moore).   They’ve tried calling up their best remaining prospects (Anthony Rendon, Nathan Karns and Taylor Jordan).  They’ve tried cleaning house of underperforming relievers (Henry RodriguezZach Duke, and Drew Storen).  They’ve tried changing key staff (firing Rick Eckstein).  They’ve tried ridiculous lineups (your best power hitter Bryce Harper leading off??)   Nothing has made a difference; the team has basically been playing .500 ball for weeks and weeks now.

For whatever reason, this team of players, picked by every baseball pundit out there to make the playoffs and by a good portion to make it to or win the World Series, is now 10 games out of of the divisional lead.  They’re 10 games back of Atlanta, which themselves has only played .500 ball since mid April after a 12-1 start.  The Nats just finished June and July playing 50 games in a row against teams that missed the 2012 playoffs (perhaps not the best bench mark, since Pittsburgh has the best record in baseball this year, but still), and finished the stretch 5 games south of .500.

The team looks like its sleepwaking through games.  They look like they have no voice, no spark, no sense of urgency.  No leadership.

The trade deadline won’t help at all; the Nats have practically no tradeable assets.  Their only FAs to be are Dan Haren and Chad Tracy.  Kurt Suzuki has a 2014 option that clearly won’t be exercised, so he counts too.  But who is out there lineing up for these 3 guys?  Meanwhile, despite their offensive woes, there’s really not a spot on the field that can be improved through trade.  Go around the field and you’ve got players on deals that at least extend through 2014 (LaRoche and Span), or  you’ve got guys on major contracts (Zimmerman and Werth) or you’ve got cornerstone younger players (HarperRamosDesmond and Rendon).  Who are you going to replace?  Maybe you think about trading Rafael Soriano (after all, the last thing a losing team needs is a high-priced closer) but a quick glance at the teams in playoff contention does not easily find a team in need of a closer (the best candidate may be Pittsburgh, who just lost their closer Jason Grilli to a forearm injury, but they’re not exactly rolling in dollars nor likely to take on an $11M/year guy).

Maybe its time to bring in a new voice, and see if he can scare this team into an August and September run.

Sorry Davey; you know how the old saying goes.  You can’t fire 25 players, but its pretty easy to fire the manager.

Haren’s 6 week Demotion, er I mean D/L Trip

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Haren's struggles earn a well-deserved D/L trip.  Photo via Zimbio.com

Haren’s struggles earn a well-deserved D/L trip. Photo via Zimbio.com

Little surprise that the Major’s worst starting pitcher Dan Haren was sent to the D/L.  As of 6/24/13, out of 99 qualified Starting Pitchers he currently ranks 99th in ERA, 95th in FIP, 72nd in xFIP (so there’s that) and (interestingly, since it purportedly is the best of the analytical evaluator advanced pitching stats) 48th in SIERA.  As has been noted elsewhere, he’s tied for the league lead in HRs conceded.  The team has lost his last nine starts, and his latest meltdown clearly has forced the team’s hand.  Haren may not be the reason this team is mired at .500 (offense, offense, offense), but he’s clearly not helping either.

So the Nats have found a “soft tissue” issue with Haren (this time?  a “Shoulder Strain”) and have sent him to the D/L.  This isn’t the first time the Nats have used a dubious soft-tissue injury to “stash” an inflexible contract (see Rodriguez, Henry and Wang, Chien-Ming repeated D/L trips over the past two years), and while I kind of laugh at the blatant manipulation of the rules, it benefits the team to be able to remove him from the active roster but not lose him to the open market, so we’ll let it slide.  (btw, how do I know that the team is playing shenanigans with the D/L trip?  Read CSN Chase Hughes‘ tweet about what Haren said when informed he was going on the D/L.   Haren didn’t even know what injury he was supposed to have!).

So what happens next?  Adam Kilgore‘s WP article on the topic seemed to indicate that the Nats and Davey Johnson are not considering either Ross Ohlendorf or Craig Stammen for spot starts.  Which I have a hard time believing frankly; both guys demonstrated their ability to pitch longer outings in the last two days in relief of failed starters.  Ohlendorf has been starting all year and is exactly the kind of 4-A/6th starter that the Nats envisioned him to be when they signed him in the off-season.  Why would the team do something rash like call up Taylor Jordan (as Kilgore suggested and as others are reporting) when we’ve already seen what a more polished and experienced AA-pitcher (Nathan Karns) can do when jumped far above his head too soon?  Yeah, I’m excited about Jordan and what he’s done this year; but I think Ohlendorf or Stammen are better options.  I’d start Ohlendorf on Saturday and see what happens.

Of course, perhaps the Nats talent evaluators are convinced that a guy (Jordan) with exactly 49 innings above A-ball is ready to replace a $13M veteran.   If so, I can’t wait to see him pitch live.  Even if it starts his service time clock too soon, he was a guaranteed 40-man addition ahead of the coming Rule-5 draft anyway based on his domination so far in 2013.  What’s a few extra months at this point?  He’s already past Super-2 status so the team has guaranteed all the control they could get over him.

As for Haren, here’s what we’re likely going to see:  he’ll pay lip service to his “injury,” get an MRI, see a couple of specialists, get a shot.  That’ll take a week or so.  By that time we’ll know whether or not whoever gets his Saturday 6/29/13 start is worth giving another start to.  If Ohlendorf or somebody pitches 6 shutout innings in Haren’s place … then Haren’s going on a long “rehab” assignment in Syracuse.  And frankly, even though he’s making $13M and was supposed to be our former ace acting as a 4th starter FA acquisition, he may struggle to get his starting gig back.

Is it time to pull the plug?  Well, baseball is a performance-based industry.  Haren has just not performed.  Is it truly because he’s pitching through injuries?  Somehow I don’t think so; he was ineffective last year, he’s yet to really have a truly dominant outing this year, and the question is out there as to whether Haren is officially washed up.  For as much as I looked forward to Haren’s time here when we signed him, I now feel like we can’t give him more starts unless he starts throwing shut-down outings in AAA.

PS: read this interesting nugget tooDanny Espinosa is playing short-stop in Syracuse.  You know what this tells me?  The same thing that Kilgore concludes: Espinosa is being showcased so that he can be shopped as a Shortstop on the trade market.  Read the link; I can’t disagree with any of his analysis.  Well, either that or the team is looking to move Ian Desmond and replace him w/ Espinosa.  Ha.

PPS: Also reading reports on NBCSports that Mike Rizzo is burning up the pre-trade market phone lines.  That’s a clear indication that this team is not ready to wave the middling .500 team flag.

Time to pull the plug on Haren yet?

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How much longer is Haren going to be wearing this hat? Photo nats official via espn.com

The Nats management waited and waited, but finally gave in and dealt with season-long performance issues in Henry Rodriguez, Zach Duke, Danny Espinosa and Tyler Moore in the first two weeks of June, DFA-ing or demoting as needed and bringing in replacements to try to do a better job and turn this season around.

So, when will it be time to talk about the train-wreck season that Dan Haren is having?  For $13M, here’s what the team has gotten in his first 12 starts, including June 12th’s meltdown:

  • a 4-8 Record with a 5.70 ERA and a 67 ERA+ (his ERA is 6th worst in baseball for qualified pitchers).
  • A 6-10 team record in games in which he’s started
  • a league leading 17 home runs allowed

A quick glance at his advanced stats doesn’t give much credence to any apologists that may try to excuse his line either; his BABIP is slightly elevated but not overly so (.320) and his FIP is still an unsightly 5.06 (5th worst among qualified starters).  Only his expected xFIP and SIERA numbers are relatively respectable, but xFip is just an estimator stat and often times never comes to pass, since it assumes silly things like the fact that Haren can’t possibly keep giving up this many home runs… an assumption that continued to be disproven as he gave up two more in his most recent loss in Colorado.

Game-Log analysis: Haren has yet to have a start where he shut out the opponent.  He’s only got 5 quality starts out of 12.  In half his starts he’s allowed 4 or more runs (not good when your team’s offense is only scoring 3.4 runs a game).  Haren’s only really had a couple of starts that were “grade A” in my book (his best start of the year was an 8 inning 4 hit performance in Atlanta of all places).  In his defense, he has gotten awful run support (2.84 runs per start), heavily indicating team losses every time he pitches.

I’ll admit it; I talked myself into the Haren deal big time after it was announced.  I ignored his 2012 struggles, looked back to the near Cy Young guy he was in 2009 and thought this was the move that could push the Nats to a 105 win team.  Now clearly whatever excuses we made for his performance in 2012 (back injury leading to diminished velocity leading to loss of his sinker leading to crummy numbers) seem like they’re covering up for an aging sinkerballer who never had lights out velocity and who now looks dangerously close to extinct as his very-hittable fastball flattens out and gets hit harder and harder.

So what’s the answer here?

Don’t talk to me about his salary; that $13M is out the door already.  Kaput.  Gone.  Look up the definition of a “Sunk Cost” in economic terms.  If you were worried about $13M in annual salary then you shouldn’t have bought a $15M a year closer who isn’t exactly a complete shutdown guy (Tyler Clippard has almost identical stats this year to Rafael Soriano for a third of the price and he didn’t cost us a 1st round draft pick, which as it turned out could have been spent on one of two pre-draft top-10 talents).  The decision needs to be made; do you still want to try to “win now” in 2013 as all the other off-season moves seemed to indicate?  Because the solution likely is going to be a bit more money and a few more prospects.

Short term (as in, the next week): see how Ross Ohlendorf does in his spot start (Answer: uh, he did awesome, holding a good hitting team to two hits through 6 in the best hitters park in the league).  If he’s anything remotely close to effective, I think you look at an invented D/L trip for Haren and send him on a rehab assignment tour of the minors.

Mid-term (as in, for the next couple weeks): do we have anyone else in the minors worth checking out?  Not on the 40-man and not with enough experience.  Maybe we give Danny Rosenbaum a shot if another spot-start is needed after Detwiler and Strasburg come back.

Longer term (as in, the next two months); Look at the trade market and look at who may be available leading up to the trade deadline.  We’re already seeing some teams completely out of it and clearly some guys will be available:

  • The Cubs probably will look to move Scott Feldman and especially Matt Garza.
  • The Astros probably will cash in on Lucas Harrell and Bud Norris (nobody’s likely interested in Erik Bedard at this point).
  • The Marlins would listen for offers for Ricky Nolasco, though perhaps not intra-division.
  • The Mets aren’t winning this year and could be moving Shawn Marcum (though perhaps not intra-division).
  • I think eventually Seattle becomes a seller: Joe Saunders and Aaron Harang should be dangled.
  • I also think San Diego eventually realizes they’re not going to win the NL West: Edinson Volquez, waiver pickup Eric StultsClayton Richards and our old friend Jason Marquis all make for possible trade candidates.

A few other poorly performing teams are probably going to be too stubborn to wave the white flag, which cuts down on the number of guys that will be available (see the Los Angeles Angels, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Toronto specifically).

The only problem with a trade market move is this: all these teams are going to want prospects back.  And the Nats prospect cupboard has been cleaned out recently to acquire all these fools who are underperforming so far in 2013.  I’m not an opposing GM, so I can’t say for sure, but from a quick look at the Nats best prospects in the minors right now (basically in order: Giolito, Goodwin, Cole, Karns, Garcia, Skole, Purke, Solis, Perez, then guys like Hood, Taylor, Walters, Ray and Jordan round out the list) and I see a lot of injured guys or players on injury rehab, backups or guys barely above or still in A-ball.  I’m not trading a valued asset for an injury-risk guy who has never gotten above AA.  Who on this list is going to fetch us a quality major league starter?

Maybe we trade Haren along with a huge chunk of his remaining salary and multiple prospects to one of these teams in order to get one of these 5th starters back.  But that’d be an awful trade when it was all said and done (about as awful as, say, the Giants trading Zack Wheeler to the Mets for 2 months of Carlos Beltran in a failed effort to make the playoffs in 2012; with all the Giants 2013 pitching issues do you think they wish they had Wheeler back right now??)

Or, it very well may be that the Nats are stuck; we knew going into the season we had no starter depth and those MLFAs we did acquire (Ohlendorf and Chris Young basically) probably aren’t the answer.  But something has to give; we can’t give away every 5th start like we seem to be doing now and claw back into the NL East race.

So, while I was out…

4 comments

Rodriguez DFA long overdue. Photo via humorfeast.blogspot.com

What a great time to have a 30-hour server outage.  Just as soon as the hammer drops on the Nationals Roster my site went kaplunk and I couldn’t post or host comments.  Grrr.  Moving the site next month to some place more stable.

So, focusing on the obvious, the Nats made a series of moves that some argue were overdue by about a couple years.  Some quick thoughts (since by now everyone’s weighed in so my comments are nothing obvious):

1. Henry Rodriguez DFA 16 walks in 18 innings this year in almost entirely low-leverage situations.  Long overdue move; if you can’t rely on a reliever, you need someone else.  I think the team hung on to him for far too long, and I struggled with  the acquisition to begin with as has often been repeated here.  Will he catch on with another team?  Probably; 100mph fastballs don’t grow on trees.    He can go be someone else’s Steve Dalkowski.

2. Zach Duke DFA: you had to see this coming; the Nats are paying the price for not tendering Tom Gorzelanny and thinking they could get by with Duke in that spot.  I did too; he was decent in AAA and great in September 2012.  But he’s been god-awful this year, and it looks like Rizzo is going to start spinning arms through the bullpen to find someone that can stick.  Unlike Davey Johnson, I don’t believe he’s going to get picked up off waivers and he’ll likely take his AAA assignment.

3. Danny Espinosa to the D/L and then (by assumption of his locker being cleaned out) banished to the minors: it was a-coming.  If he was hitting .230 with power and walks, he could have stuck on.  But you just cannot cost a struggling offense the kind of at-bats he was.  He’s got more than 1500 MLB plate appearances now; is this who he is?  I think Espinosa’s 2013 season may end up with him spending the rest of the year in AAA relearning how to hit before the team has to make a hard decision next year.

4. Anthony Rendon back up and at 2b: had to happen.  He’s ready for the MLB.  He had nothing left to prove by slicing up AA.  Can he play second?  Yeah I think he can; it isn’t rocket science.  If Rendon played shortstop in HS, he can make that transition.  Stick him at 6th or 7th in the order and let him play.

5. Ian Krol: this move came out of nowhere for me.  Suddenly mr “we don’t need a left handed reliever” Mike Rizzo has two of them in his bullpen.  He’s also managed to already call up both guys added to the 40-man roster last fall ahead of the rule-5 draft.  I’m sure both Krol and Erik Davis will struggle here and there, but should hold their own in short stints.

Summary: like the moves.  It is almost as if the Nats fanboy blogosphere got to play GM for a day and rid the team of all its issues in one fell swoop.  The timing couldn’t be better; 6 games against non-descript teams and even more non-descript starters.  Lets hope the combination of new blood and bad opponents sparks this team.